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Portland Oregon: A City Focused on Sustainability

Portland Oregon: A City Focused on Sustainability

More than any other American city, Portland, Oregon is a leader in adopting green and sustainability initiatives. By working closely with residents and businesses, the city of Portland has adopted policies that promote clean energy and urban livability that continue to generate impressive results.

Since 1990, residents of Portland have reduced their use of gasoline by an average of 30 percent per person and reduced carbon emissions by 41 percent per person.[i] Over the past 5 years, Portland has achieved a 70 percent recycling rate for waste produced by its various departments, bringing the city closer to its 2030 recycling goal of 90 percent. [ii] These accomplishments would not have been possible without the many sustainable procurement initiatives and green infrastructure projects supported by the various departments of Portland’s municipal government.

Warm-Mix Asphalt

In an effort to reduce the use of traditional hot-mix asphalt (HMA), which is known to produce dangerous fumes and be environmentally-unfriendly to produce, the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) began looking for alternative materials for their capital improvement projects.  After 3 years of field testing, in 2011 the PBOT switched to warm-mix asphalt (WMA) which produces lower greenhouse gas (GHG) and volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions. WMA also requires 30-45 percent less fuel to produce at the city’s contracted asphalt plants, helping to further reduce the city’s dependence on fossil fuels.

In addition to the environmental benefits, WMA has many field-use benefits over HMA.  The use of WMAs has actually extended Portland’s paving season because of its slower cooling process and its ability to be compacted at lower temperature. Clean up of WMA is easier too: it sticks less to the trucks and equipment used for paving, which makes transport and unloading less problematic. WMA also produces a longer pavement life because it does not prematurely age in same way HMA does.

(Source: City of Portland Oregon. Green Purchasing Case Study. Warm-Mix Asphalt. 2016)

Solar-Powered Parking Meters

Over the past 15 years the City of Portland has been transitioning from traditional single-space parking meters to multi-space, solar-powered parking meters known as SmartMeters. Each SmartMeter is equipped with a 10-watt solar panel that is used to recharge the meter’s sealed battery. The solar panel is designed to function on overcast and rainy days and requires only ambient light to function properly.

One of the first cities in the United States to embrace SmartMeters, Portland has installed over 1,300 of these units, each of which serves six to seven parking spaces. SmartMeters are being used to administer about 95 percent of the paid parking spaces in Portland’s downtown, South Waterfront, and Oregon Health and Science University districts. Around 60 percent of metered spaces in the Lloyds district also use SmartMeters, with plans for more to be installed in the future.

Since their instillation the SmartMeters have delivered both environmental and financial benefits. In fiscal 2012-13, the Portland Bureau of Transportation reported that parking meters brought in approximately $21 million in revenue, an increase of 87 percent from 2002, the year the SmartMeter project began. A large portion of the revenue increase can be attributed to the SmartMeters' ability to accept credit and debit card payments.

(Source: City of Portland Oregon. Green Purchasing Case Study. Solar-Powered Parking Meters. 2016)

Electric Vehicle Fleet

In 2015 the City of Portland began converting their automotive fleet to more environmentally friendly electric vehicles (EVs). These electric vehicles produce zero or low amounts of greenhouse gas emissions and generate less air pollution then their gas-powered equivalents. This initiative applied to the city’s sedan-class fleet and also called for a minimum of 20 percent of the city’s cars to be transitioned to electric vehicles by the end of fiscal year 2015-16. The types of vehicles used in this program include all-electric vehicles, which operate exclusively on a rechargeable electric battery, and plug-in hybrids that have a rechargeable electric battery and an internal combustion engine. As of April 2016 the City of Portland had exceeded its 20% conversion goal by adding 50 electric vehicles (Nissan Leafs, Chevy Volts, and Ford C-Max and Fusion Energis) to their sedan fleet.

Although the average upfront price of $36,000 for an EV is more expensive than the approximately $14,000 for a gas-powered sedan, the EV fleet has proven to be more cost efficient when it comes to upkeep and maintenance. Fuel prices for the plug-in hybrids operating in gas mode comes in at approximately $0.26 less per mile when compared with equivalent gas sedans, generating a fuel cost savings of $26,000 for the life of each electric vehicle.

EVs require very little upkeep on their electric motors, batteries and breaking systems. Vehicles’ batteries carry an 8-year/100,000 mile warranty and the regenerative braking systems of EVs suffer from less wear then conventional braking systems found on gas-fueled cars.

The overall impression of the EV purchases is one of success, considering that the city expects to see a return on its investment for the purchase of each EV within eight years of purchase, and the vehicles are intended to be in service for upwards of 10 years. As older cars are retired from active use, the city will replace these gas vehicles with additional EVs, expanding their electric fleet.

(Source: City of Portland Oregon. Green Purchasing Case Study. Electric Vehicles. 2016)

A Green Future

The ongoing commitment by the City of Portland to a green and sustainable future continues to produce opportunities for vendors looking to work with the city. Replacement and repair of automotive batteries, graffiti removal, LED streetlight installations and pest management services are just a few examples of green and sustainable procurement notifications recently issued by the city. [iii] Portland is always looking forward, and is clearly invested in making every effort to be a clean and healthy city for years to come.

Kevin McClintock |

[i] Thanks for all you do Portland. City of Portland Planning and Sustainability. 2017. Web 12 May 2017

[ii] Garbage Recycling and Composting. City of Portland Planning and Sustainability. 2017. Web 12 May 2017

[iii] Sustainable Procurement. Bureau of Revenue and Financial Services. 2017. Web 12 May 2017


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